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Paul Drewitz, the top lawyer for the California State Automobile Association, fought back tears as a Balboa High School senior named Alberto described how a tour of East Coast colleges had finally convinced him that he could and should apply to college. “It hit me hard,” Alberto said as he thanked the Bar Association of San Francisco for helping him and his classmates visit the schools in September. Before the trip the schools had existed for them only in the form of vague ideas or glossy brochures. “Education is just cool if you see it the right way,” Alberto said. BASF’s Balboa School-to-College program “East Coast College Trip” sent 27 seniors from San Francisco, Calif.’s Balboa High School to see colleges and landmarks in Boston, New York City and Washington, D.C. The trip was paid for with the collected frequent-flier miles of 33 Bay Area legal heavyweights. A third of the students said the trip knocked them off of the fence about applying to college, while the other two-thirds of the students had already initiated early decision and regular applications with schools like Howard, Georgetown and New York University. Summing up the circumstances that had prompted BASF to start the program last year, Balboa senior Alondra Jones told the assembled groups of BASF members that “opportunities like this don’t come to children like us.” BASF executive director and general counsel Drucilla Ramey started the program last year, and it includes opportunities for mentoring and SAT preparation. She said the idea was inspired by her own harrowing experience shepherding her “upper middle-class daughter” through the college application process. Ramey said she was forced to confront how students with heavy financial burdens and other trying circumstances face an uphill battle taking on the same process. They are also operating without the advantages of advanced placement classes, up-to-date textbooks, SAT enrichment programs and out-of-state travel experiences that their suburban and private school peers take for granted. The idea for tapping unused frequent-flier miles took hold a little over a year ago when Ramey gave her own miles to a colleague who couldn’t afford to send her high-achieving daughter to visit four-year colleges on the East Coast. “I’m constantly hearing lawyers bitch and moan about how much time they spend in the air,” said Ramey. She quickly turned the concept into a full-throttle travel-planning operation with a barrage of phone calls to leaders at the San Francisco Bay Area’s largest firms. At the high school reception, the students told the lawyers about being the first in their families to attend college, or of having felt resigned to entering the work force after high school. They clearly delighted in being listened to and returned the favor with rapt attention when local attorneys like Fred Alvarez, BASF president and partner at Wilson Sonsini Goodrich & Rosati, and Lindbergh Porter Jr. of Allen, Matkins, Leck, Gamble & Mallory got up and spoke about their own paths to success. Meanwhile, lawyers beseeched the students to take advantage of the proven persuasive writing skills of the area’s thousands of lawyers, practically pleading for the chance to help the students write their essays. “If there’s one thing lawyers know how to do other than gab a lot it’s to write,” said Ramey.

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